Though he only found out about the Veterans of Foreign Wars seven years ago, that hasn’t stopped Ron Jardine from taking a leadership role for local veterans.
“I never looked for veterans services,” said Jardine. “I never knew about them.”
In fact, Jardine, a Vietnam War veteran, seems an unlikely candidate to lead VFW Post 4750, given his background.
After starting work for Union Pacific Railroad out of high school, 19-year-old Jardine was drafted in July of 1966. After nine and a half months in Fort Bliss, Texas, he spent a year in Vietnam.
When he returned to Utah in May of 1968, Jardine kept in touch with a few of his buddies from basic training, but didn’t stay connected to many people he served with. Since moving to Hermiston in 1998, he hadn’t been in contact with anyone.
“I don’t come from a military family,” Jardine said. “So that was a whole new thing for me.”
But he discovered, almost by accident, a whole community of veterans and, along with it, programs that could help him and others who had served.
Jardine became involved with the local VFW post in 2010 when he was at the Umatilla County Fair and saw its booth.
“I walked by, and the man asked me if I was in the service,” Jardine said. “I said I was in Vietnam, and he asked me if I was getting benefits. I said I didn’t really know about them.”
Jardine learned that he could get tested for Agent Orange, PTSD, diabetes and other service-related health issues
He now serves as the commander of the local VFW, helping other veterans find the services he didn’t know about before.
The post also serves as a social gathering for veterans. They hold events and fundraisers, help set up the Avenue of the Flags for Memorial Day, and help out with funerals for veterans who have died. They hold bingo each Friday at the post, 45 West Cherry Avenue, which Jardine says draws dozens of people.
Glenn Scott, one of two Veterans Service Officers in Umatilla County, works out of Hermiston, with veterans from Umatilla, Hermiston, Stanfield and Echo. He helps veterans and their families find services and benefits, as well as with employment, housing and vocational rehab.
Scott said he has worked with about 800 veterans since he started the job three years ago.
“The services in the area are fairly easy for veterans to get to,” Scott said. “We have an excellent working relationship with [groups] like Lifeways, CAPECO. Umatilla County has an enormous resource base our office utilizes.”
Scott said he has made several presentations at the local VFW and American Legion posts about how veterans can utilize county and state resources, and about his role. He said it’s not just veterans who saw action that can benefit.
“Veterans are anyone who served in the armed forces,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean they were deployed.”
Jardine and Scott both noted the disparity between older and younger veterans in groups like the VFW.
“We get them every once in a while and they help us out, but we wish we could get younger vets in,” Jardine said.
“You look at the 30-, 40- or 20-year-old Iraq or Afghanistan vets and ask them, ‘why not join?’” Scott said. “I just think a lot of members of the younger generation don’t want to become members of any social organization.”
Scott, who is a member of Pendleton’s VFW Post 922, said in his job, he has met with younger veterans who say they have no need to join a group.
“It’s a whole different mindset as opposed to World War II vets, Vietnam or Korean vets, for whom the VFW really stood for something,” he said.
For the older veterans, Scott said, the VFW means more than just a place to find out about services.
“There’s the camaraderie,” Scott said. “You can share war stories. And aside from the personal aspect, what they do for the community — there’s a tremendous amount of money donated from the VFW for several types of events.”
He noted the Cowboy Breakfast that Pendleton’s VFW puts on during the Round-Up. “There’s a lot that goes back into the community.”
Both men said it’s easy for veterans to fall through the cracks.
“It’s not so much that someone doesn’t know, as much as a veteran might not realize they were entitled to VA benefits,” Scott said. “We’re getting ready to hire a third veterans service officer, who will be responsible only for outreach.”
Jardine encouraged those interested to come to the VFW, or to visit Scott at the veterans service office. The office is located at 435 East Newport Avenue, and is open Monday through Friday.